[Justin Harris & Paul Leeming. Tokyo: ABAX ELT Publishers, 2018. ¥2,484. ISBN 978-1-896942-99-5.]
On Task 3 is the highest of a three-level series of textbooks that are designed with a Task Based Language Teaching (TBLT) approach. The aim of this review was to evaluate the tasks in On Task 3 through the prism of Ellis and Shintani’s (2014) four criteria for distinguishing a task from an exercise: primarily meaning-focused; information, reasoning, or opinion gap (Prabhu, 1987); learners mainly use their own linguistic and non-linguistic resources; and there is a communicative outcome that is clearly defined. On Task 3 was trialed for this review with one class of only three students. Whilst I think the book is designed for and would work well with larger classes, it is also possible to use it with small classes.
Each unit starts with a one-minute speech with no preparation, forcing learners to rely on their own linguistic resources. They are then given the chance to search for and write down vocabulary that they needed in their speech but did not know. The first task of each unit is an input task built around reading an article. The pre-task always provides a gap. In Unit 1, some keywords and a photograph are provided to encourage prediction, creating an information gap. This makes learners want to read to the end of the interesting story in order to find out if their guesses are correct, which is the main task. The post-task consists of a comprehension check and discussion linked to the story about meeting friends online. The main communicative outcome of the task seems to be enjoying the story.
The second task of each unit is output based. In Unit 1, learners ask each other questions and find things they have in common with other students. In the pre-task, they think of questions they would ask when meeting someone for the first time. In the main task, they form their own questions to find out information about classmates that is specified in the book, such as birthplace, favourite food, and dream job. Finally, the post-task is to write a short paragraph about similarities with a partner after asking further questions. Learners must use their own resources to form questions, and the gap, in this case, is an opinion gap. The communicative outcome is getting to know your classmates and finding similarities with a partner. In my class, two students found that they were born in the same hospital and had similar music tastes.
Finally, there is a listening exercise, where learners listen to a seemingly unscripted conversation between two speakers from different countries and suggested presentations are provided. The presentations can be used for assessment along with a task completion check for self-assessment.
The book meets the four criteria set out by Ellis and Shintani (2014). There is a meaning focus rather than a focus on grammar or prescribed language, there is always a gap, there are opportunities for learners to rely on their own linguistic resources first, and there seems to be a clearly defined communicative outcome—understanding a story or getting to know your classmates. Throughout the rest of the book, other tasks include surveys, storytelling, creating a new invention, and planning tasks.
The only real criticism I have is the assessment options. The main form of assessment is unit tests, which are available for download. They may be useful in contexts where teachers are expected to use a written paper test to evaluate students, but they are not necessarily in the spirit of TBLT.
Willis (1996) has several suggestions for the assessment of TBLT, such as vocabulary tests created by students from previous lessons, getting students to repeat tasks with a new partner and assess their performance, or recording pair-work regularly to evaluate long-term progress. These forms of assessment could easily be implemented with On Task 3, along with evaluating the presentations. Rubrics or assessment sheets to assist instructors would be useful to aid this kind of assessment. If this support was available, the authors would further achieve what seems to be the goal of the book: to allow teachers to bring TBLT into their classroom without worrying about excessive planning, creating content, and designing tasks. I think On Task 3 largely achieves these goals, as the content is interesting, and it should be easy for instructors to follow the lessons with little planning time.
Ellis, R., & Shintani, N. (2014). Exploring language pedagogy through second language acquisition research. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.
Prabhu, N. S. (1987). Second language pedagogy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Willis, J. (1996). A framework for task-based learning. Harlow: Longman.